TRANS-BORDERS: Stakeholder workshop – Liberec, Czech Republic

On 16th May 2018 KORID LK, spol.r.o., the leading public transport planning institution of Liberec region, organized the workshop “Best practice of cross-border public transport in Central Europe.” During this meeting, we discussed trends and themes related to specific problems in cross-border regions, especially in the German, Polish and Czech border-triangle. A complete list of all speakers and their thematic priorities you can see here.

Welcome to Liberec

Mr. Marek Pieter, Deputy of the President of the Region opened together with Ms. Petra Ludewig (Saxon State Ministry for Economic Affairs, Labour and Transport) the stakeholder event and welcomed the participants. Mr. Pieter briefly introduced the Liberec region and gave an overview of current developments in public transport. KORID LK, spol.r.o. as the coordinator of the public transport has been trying to improve the infrastructure of regional railways in a long-term period. The project TRANS-BORDERS is the platform to continue in its efforts. The economic and the technical studies should be the base for the negotiations with railway infrastructure operator on the national level, for the support of regional stakeholders and public authorities. In addition, Ms. Petra Ludewig presented the TRANS-BORDERS project and its objectives in general. Both speakers emphasized that above all a good neighbourly exchange and the removal of barriers, be they organisational, technical or linguistic, are essential in order to create joint solutions for future attractive cross-border connections.

Opening Workshop Liberec

The second session focused on the in 1991 established Euroregion Neisse-Nisa-Nysa. The Euroregion includes the German districts of Bautzen and Görlitz, Czech towns and communities in northern Bohemia and Polish municipalities, towns and districts of Lower Silesia. Many common problems and interests, resulting of a varied history, affiliate these three border areas in the heart of Europe. For example, the border-triangle nowadays is a white spot on the European railroad transport and investments map.

Within the Euroregion, the negative influences of borders are to be eliminated and the standard of living of the inhabitants as well as the economic potential are to be increased by means of targeted cooperation relations at many levels. In the public transport, the Transport Association Upper Lusatia / Lower Silesia (ZVON) on the German side and KORID as Czech interest representatives worked closely together for years.

Christoph Mehnert, Deputy Managing Director of the ZVON, spoke as representative of the region Upper Lusatia / Lower Silesia and informed about the condition and development of the public area during his lecture. He sees the development of the East Saxon region with railway primarily via the line RE 1 from Görlitz to Dresden, the RE 2 from Zittau to Dresden and the OE 65 from Zittau via Görlitz to Cottbus. The RE 2 poses one of the two cross-border railway connections from the Upper Lusatia / Lower Silesia region to the Liberec region. Mr. Mehnert points out the critical connection of the region to the TEN-T network. Just Dresden as the closest TEN-T node can currently be reached quickly through the well-developed east-west connections; long-distance traffic has been gradually reduced since the mid-1990s.
Mr. Mehnert discribed the track conditions to the neighbouring countries as critical. On the one hand, the level of electrification of the route network has a negative effect on travel times. However, for the route from Dresden via Bautzen to Görlitz, electrification in accordance with the federal transport route plan is already planned.

Mr. Dominik Rein, technical consultant of the district of Görlitz, added in his lecture that this closing of the gap in the electrified railway network between Dresden and Zgorzelec offers the prerequisite for an attractive long-distance traffic between Dresden and Wroclaw / Breslau. Regarding to the growing number of commuter in the border triangle and the relief of road traffic, cross-border rail connections are becoming increasingly important. Mr. Rein also sees the closing of the gap between Görlitz and Cottbus as important.
Through this exhaustive train service between Görlitz and Berlin is a faster travel to the agglomerations Dresden, Berlin and Breslau associated. Rehabilitations are also necessary for the tracks from Germany to Liberec. The current situation does not allow high travel speeds, which has a negative effect on the attractiveness of rail traffic in comparison to the travel with car.

Workshop Session Liberec

Mr. Pavel Blazek of the KORID highlighted in particular the development of private transport, where the region of Liberec is increasingly confronted with traffic jams and bottlenecks as well as a lack of parking spaces in larger conurbations. The KORID monitored the success of modernized and fast train transport in comparable regions and relations, but substantial investments to the region’s infrastructure have not been headed for decades. By  participation  in  TRANS-BORDERS  the KORID  express  their  interest  to  extend  the  discussion  on  quality  connection  between  Liberec  and  Prague  by  the  topic  of  improving services for the entire border triangle. Mr. Blazek emphasized, that the KORID is interested in speeding up real investments in infrastructure with local, national and European support. In the Study of  Opportunities,  we  will  focus  on  supplementing  the  missing  information  on  the  future  potential of passenger and cargo transport in the area between Central Europe and Baltic ports  by  using  the  improved  infrastructure  in  the  border triangle.  Newly identified opportunities will serve to build the Traffic Model of the area, which will be used to calculate the prospective amount of passengers and cargo. 
The poor condition of the railways on the Czech side is solved by the Ministry of Transport and the Railway Infrastructure Administration (Správa železniční dopravní cesty) at the study level. Mr. Vit Sedmidubský of the Ministry of Transport and Mr. Petr Provazník of SŽDC presented the new railway connection  from  Prague  to  Wroclaw,  alternatively  through  Liberec  or  Hradec  Králové,  for expected cruising speed of 250 to 350 kilometres per hour is examined within the European transport network. Other projects deal with improving the existing track between Prague and Liberec for speeds of 80 to 160 kilometres per hour. The potential of transit transport has not yet been analysed in detail and the projects have not yet achieved the economic efficiency required for their implementation. 

Workshop Liberec

The third and last session provided examples of best practice, case studies and explanations of the existing solutions and frameworks. According to the lectures on the Euroregion Neisse, Dirk Benofsky, employee of the ZVON, spoke about the Euro-Neisse ticket. This tariff model initiated by the ZVON is a best practice model for cross-border public ticketing.
On the accession of the Czech Republic and Poland on 1st of May 2004, a proposal for a common tariff model was developed with representatives of the local authorities of the three countries. Since 1 May 2004, day tickets for one up to five persons and bicycle day tickets are available for an uncomplicated cross-border public transport. At the time of introduction, the scope was limited to 17 companies with a total number of 223 lines. Mr. Benofsky then described how the tariff has been gradually developed over the past few years and what measures have been taken regarding to marketing, sales and offer planning.
Developing fair tariffs was one of the most important issues. A solution was for example, that the price levels are set independently in each country. Various organizational structures and formal hurdles had to be overcome for a successful introduction. In 2013, the Euro-Neisse ticket won the MORO Prize. Mr. Benofsky considered the communication of the tariff to be particularly important, for example with multilingual timetables. Through the integration of further companies, the scope of application could be extended to approximately 700 lines. Mr. Benofsky assured that the development process is not yet complete. In the next few years, the tariff will be further expanded in terms of quality and product range, but also regarding to the inclusion of tourist offers and forms of distribution.

Peter Zajc, representative of Regional Development Agency for Koroška region (RRA Koroška) in the TRANS-BORDERS project, considered in his lecture cross-border transport systems in the regions of Koroška (Slovenia) and Carinthia (Austria). Purpose of the RRA Koroška is to promote the regional and local development on economical and social field, to encourage the technological development, spatial and regional planning.
Mr. Zajc described in particular the reasons inducing cross-border traffic. On the one hand, there is work and education. Reasons for commuting lie in different wage levels, but also in different regional industrial specialisations. Estimated 2000 people commute from the Koroška region to Austria, preferably to Carinthia. On the other hand, Mr. Zajc mentions tourism and shopping as important factors for cross-border traffic.
The current cross-border transport system in the region geared to road transport. Existing bus connections usually end at the border. At the moment it is impossible to travel by public transport (train or bus) during weekends between Maribor and Bleiburg. The cross-borders region Carinthia / Koroška is putting a lot of efforts to develop cycling as a tourism product (Drava River Cycle Route, mountain biking in Geopark Karavanke/Karawanken and Pohorje Hills). Regarding pilot activities RRA Koroška focus within TRANS-BORDERS will be on implementing a Slovenia / Austria summer-season bus line between TEN-T nodes Maribor and Bleiburg.

Representing the Marshal's Office of Lower Silesia, Ms. Agnieszka Zakes spoke about the condition of Polish rail links and the requirements for international traffic to the two neighbouring countries of the Neisse Euroregion. In terms of transport relations with neighbouring countries, Lower Silesia looks back on an eventful past. Ms. Zakes emphasizes Dresden as an attractive destination for Lower Silesian society. This city is very attractive for working or even for shopping and sightseeing.
In the project “Neighbour “ a rail link between Wroclaw and Dresden was created in 2009. Ms. Zakes stated that travel time is an important factor for passengers. For this reason, electrification will be forced on Polish railway-lines and will be completed in 2019 on the track Wroclaw - Zgorzelec. This leads to approximately 20 minutes reduced travel times and a huge increasing customer service. Following on Mr. Mehnert's presentation, she emphasised the stagnating process in the electrification of the track Dresden - Görlitz and the lack of connection to the long-distance railway-network in Western Europe.
As a special highlight of the cross-border train service Ms. Zakes mentioned the cultural train between Breslau and Berlin. On weekend, it connects the two cultural metropolises. This turns rail travel into an experience and offers travellers many interesting cultural activities. For the future, Ms. Zakes hopes that the already good neighbourly relations between Germany and Poland will continue to develop.
Ms. Zakes also sees the development towards connecting the Czech neighbours as positive. There are already good connections to the regions of Liberec, Hradec Králové and Pardubice. Passenger interest in tourism in particular is very high, although there will be changes in the user structure expected. Especially with the background of the network changes in the Liberec region discussed before, there is a high development potential for the Lower Silesia region.

At the end of the lecture series, Mr. Roland Fercher presented the EU Interreg IV project to the participants of this workshop as a best practice solution in cross-border public transport. The MICOTRA-train is a cross-border train between Villach in Carinthia (Austria) and Udine in Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Italy). Within the project, the Transport Association Carinthia was responsible for the promotional measures in the project. The MICOTRA-project was outstanding regarding to marketing and should form the basis for similar projects. 

Best Practice Session